Rail passengers face another day of reduced services on Saturday as thousands of employees of the Railway, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) continue a 48-hour strike.
People have been told to only attempt travel when absolutely necessary on the last full weekend before Christmas, with only a skeletal service running and all train journeys ending in the early evening.
Rail companies have advised passengers to plan ahead and check online for updates, with around 20% of normal services operating between 7.30am and 6.30pm on Saturdays, and no trains in some areas. The disruptions are expected to continue through Sunday morning.
Thousands of Network Rail RMT members and 14 train operators – joined on Saturday by Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) members from six operators – will take action in the dispute over pay and conditions.
This will be the last strike before Christmas Eve, giving some opportunities for people willing to travel. However, an overtime ban from Sunday for RMT train staff will continue to affect services until January, with severe disruption for operators including Chiltern and South Western Railway.
A small number of national road controllers and traffic officers from the PCS union will also continue strikes on Saturday, potentially swelling any disruption on the roads should a traffic incident occur. The agency, which controls strategic roads and highways, said no roads would be closed and remained confident in the mitigation plans it had in place.
Dim hopes were raised that the rail dispute could be concluded before further strikes in January.
Union general secretary Mick Lynch said on Friday there were “no new proposals” but more meetings and “polls” of possible solutions, after a seemingly positive meeting between the RMT, the minister for railroads, Huw Merriman, and the railroad industry. leaders Thursday night.
Lynch said they “had a discussion about what might be possible and some ways forward and ideas shared by all parties… There are no real negotiations; there are polls on what could be developed.
However, he told Sky News he was ‘optimistic’ that a deal could be reached with a compromise, adding: ‘I know there are some very simple steps we and employers could take together to find a solution to this problem.”
The TSSA, whose members voted earlier this week to accept Network Rail’s improved pay offer, also remains in dispute with rail operators, with industrial action in virtually all those in England under contract with the Department for Transport.
Transport for Wales, which was not affected by the strike, confirmed on Friday that it had reached an agreement with all railway unions for a 4.5% pay rise.
Acting TSSA chief Frank Ward said he had reached an agreement where there were “genuine negotiations”, adding: “It is clear that Rishi Sunak’s government is responsible for stalling negotiations with railway companies and the ruin of Christmas for railway workers and passengers.”
The next RMT strike at Network Rail is scheduled from 6.00pm on 24th December until 6.00am on 27th December. Although the union said this should not affect passengers, with hardly any trains over the Christmas holiday period, which is dedicated to engineering work, Network Rail said it would stop trains early the day before of Christmas.
One of the few companies hoping to operate, Eurostar, announced on Friday that it would have to cancel Boxing Day services. While some cross-Channel services had operated on previous strike days, he said he had been told the high-speed line from the UK to London would be closed.
Retailers and the hospitality and entertainment sectors have complained of growing losses with footfall on high streets and people’s travel plans affected.
Figures from location-based technology company TomTom showed morning rush hour traffic congestion during the strikes was significantly higher in London, Liverpool and Glasgow compared to the previous week, while traffic on the main streets increased dropped as much as 17% on strike days this week, according to Springboard.
Research by the RAC found young people in particular saw Christmas travel plans affected by the strikes, with two in five of 18-24 year olds having to alter their trips. Of these, around half now planned to travel by car instead, and a quarter did not yet know how to get to their planned destinations in time for Christmas.
RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: “There is no doubt the strikes will make this year’s Christmas jaunt to the roads busier than normal.”
Meanwhile, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have both halted sales of new tickets for flights to Heathrow on days affected by Border Force strikes over Christmas.
An airport spokesperson said the decision followed a request from Border Force, although they added that no flights had to be canceled as a result.
Border Force staff at Heathrow Terminals 2, 3, 4 and 5 – as well as Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports and the port of Newhaven – are planning strikes from 23-26 and 28-31 December.